Suspect also faces second murder charge
LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette Parish grand jury indicted Brandon Scott Lavergne on Wednesday on two counts of first-degree murder, one involving missing cyclist Michaela “Mickey” Shunick and the other the death of Lisa Pate on July 3, 1999.
The grand jury met all day Wednesday to consider two cases, the last of which involved Lavergne. The grand jury returned the indictments shortly before 6 p.m.
Lavergne, 33, of the Lawtell area in St. Landry Parish, has been held without bail at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center in the disappearance of Shunick, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student, since his July 5 arrest on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.
Little information was available Wednesday evening concerning Pate’s killing. Prosecutors declined to comment after the grand jury proceedings, and 15th Judicial District Attorney Michael Harson did not return a call to his cellphone.
News reports at the time about Pate’s slaying indicate that the 35-year-old Lafayette woman’s remains were found in September 1999 under some boards behind a house near Church Point. She had been missing since June of that year.
Investigators suspected foul play, but no arrest was ever made in the case.
In December 2002, The Advocate quoted Keith Latiolais, with the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office, as saying that investigators had a suspect in Pate’s death. The suspect was not identified, but Latiolais said he was already in jail for an unrelated offense.
Keith Latiolais, who is now chief deputy of the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office, was present for Wednesday’s grand jury proceedings but declined to comment on the case afterward, deferring all questions to Harson’s office.
A news release by the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which covers Lafayette, Acadia and Vermillion Parish, states the charges of first-degree murder incorporate underlying felony charges including aggravated kidnapping and second-degree kidnapping.
The release says the state will seek the death penalty.
Shunick’s father, Tom Shunick, agreed with the decision to seek the death penalty.
“I’m assuming that they will seek the death penalty and I hope they do,” Tom Shunick said Wednesday.
While the second charge caught Tom Shunick off guard, the father said he was not at all surprised the grand jury returned an indictment against Lavergne.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other things they found in his house about other people who have either been kidnapped and molested, or missing people,” he said, adding that he does not have any information as to whether any such evidence was found.
Investigators searched Lavergne’s home in rural St. Landry Parish on the day of his arrest. Officials have not disclosed what evidence they uncovered during that search.
“I hope he didn’t murder my daughter,” Tom Shunick said. “If he did, I’m just hoping they have the evidence. Apparently they do. Now that he is up on two charges maybe he’ll realize he’s caught and depending on what they have on him maybe he’ll fess up to what happened. I’d like to know what happened that night. Not just find the body, but what happened. Was he just out trolling and she was just in the wrong place at the right time for him?”
Mickey Shunick, an animal lover and avid cyclist, was last seen shortly before 2 a.m. leaving a friend’s home on Ryan Street near downtown on a black Schwinn bicycle on her way to her parents’ Governor Miro home about five miles away.
Mickey Shunick’s mother, Nancy Rowe, and her sister, Charlene “Charlie” Shunick, both said Wednesday that finding Mickey remains their top priority.
“If he did kill Mickey, we just wish he could muster up the courage to let us know where we can find her. We will not give up until she is home,” Charlie Shunick wrote in a text message Wednesday.
“I hope that our family and others will get answers and closure,” Nancy Rowe wrote in a text message Wednesday. “We still have finding Mickey as priority #1.”
Lavergne was initially developed as a suspect after investigators received a tip June 14 connecting him to a white Chevrolet Z71 truck seen on surveillance video traveling in the same direction as Shunick near downtown Lafayette, Lafayette police have said.
Lavergne’s truck was reported stolen in Texas and later found burned on May 31, a few days after police released a video image of the vehicle, police have said.
Investigators also have information linking Lavergne to the area under the Interstate 10 Whiskey Bay Bridge where Shunick’s bicycle was found May 26, Police Chief Jim Craft has said.
A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office report released two weeks ago in response to news media requests said Lavergne checked himself into a hospital there for treatment of stab wounds hours after Shunick was last seen in public.
The hospital visit happened on the day Shunick disappeared. Lavergne told a deputy he had been robbed and attacked with a knife at an unknown gas station in an unknown location in the parish, the report said.
Lavergne is a registered sex offender who was released from prison in 2008 after serving eight years on an aggravated oral sexual battery conviction for tying up, blindfolding and then sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in Evangeline Parish in 1999.
The news release Wednesday states that a number of law enforcement agencies led by the Lafayette Police Department and the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office, have investigated these and related matters for a considerable period of time, adding that further investigation is still in progress.
Lavergne is currently scheduled to appear before state District Judge Herman Clause, who presided over the grand jury Wednesday, on July 27 for a preliminary examination and motion for a bond reduction.
The release says a formal arraignment will also be set.